Monday, 7 March 2011

Lying in Bed by Polly Samson

Lying in Bed is a collection of slightly odd, but moving short stories. Some of them made me laugh, some made me smile, and some almost made me cry. Concerned mainly with human emotions, the stories really do seem to get to the heart of an issue, and as all good short stories do, finish with a twist, that sometimes elicited a gasp from me. Most of them definitely had a twist, sometimes even worthy of Roald Dahl. I loved nearly all of these stories, and there are some that will stay with me for a long time.

The first story, Wasted Time, managed to induce giggles, smiles and sadness in me, all in the space of fourteen pages. It was my favourite story in the collection. It starts with a young girl asking her mother why she doesn’t have any brothers and sisters, and given an explanation, this is her considered response;

“Now this was all very well, thought the girl, but if they made love as often as her mother claimed, then why did she not have brothers and sisters. It was all highly suspicious, just like that ‘twinkle in your father’s eye’ stuff before.”

That little bit made me smile, but this story soon takes a much more ominous tone, as the true mental state of the mother is revealed, leading to the realisation of how lonely this child is, and the lengths she goes to to find ’friends’, and force her parents to provide siblings. It is in fact quite a horrific story, and it is impossible not to feel for the child as the realities of her life are revealed.

Inner feelings and emotions are a central theme of the stories in his collection. In fact the events themselves are always quite ordinary (except in that first story), but the author manages to shift all of the focus to the characters feelings, thoughts and emotions. The true extent of what is going on is never revealed at the start. At first the stories are just describing a scene, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but always with a deep emotional impact for at least one of the characters by the conclusion of the story. It also seems to be distressed women in the majority of the stories. We watch a woman who doesn’t know who the father of her baby is inform her current partner of her pregnancy, then see her move from a state of fear to total love for her daughter. In another story we see that same woman’s friend dealing with the lack of children in her life, mainly because her husband doesn’t feel the need to bring children into the world.

This particular story really emphasises the theme running through many of the stories of the difference between outward impressions of relationships, and the inner reality. To all concerned, the couple have an ideal relationship, they really seem to enjoy spending time together and have a comfortable lifestyle including a nice home and lots of holidays. On one such holiday, their friend says to Clara

“You and Robert are the only couple I know who are actually quite nice to each other”

But personally Clara is feeling there is something missing from her life, and there always will be.

“It was the pain in her head more than menstrual cramps….the relief each month of her teenage years (thank you God!), that in Clara’s case extended into the first ten years of married life, were now replaced by a vacuous sorrow. A nebulous grief for someone who didn’t exist. A few more years and this monthly reminder would cease. She felt like she was becoming extinct”

It was this gradual peeling back of the layers in each story to reveal the truth of what was going on that I found so fascinating in these stories. That combines with the fact that all the characters were so ordinary, and so well drawn that they were easily identifiable with. They could live up the road, or round the corner from you. They were brilliant, shocking and emotionally raw. And definitely worth reading.

No comments: